Mama Afrika: South Africa's Pagan Spirit
North is South, Winter is Summer and widdershins is deosil. The South African experience of Paganism is topsy-turvy compared to our Northern brothers and sisters; but much like the Afrikaans saying, “ŉ boer maak ŉ plan,” Pagan South Africans make do with what they have and make it their own.
Journey to the Mealies
Drive ten kilometres outside our dorpie this time of year and you will find yourself flanked by South Africa’s staple crop: mealies. More commonly known as maize or corn in the US and UK, mealies (pronounced me-lee’s) are the cornerstone of the South African diet and are most commonly eaten in the form of mielie-pap; a dish similar to American grits or Italian polenta. But mealies are more than that, they represent nourishment and abundance and are of importance to Xhosa culture where it’s used to make Umqombothi; a thick, sour beer that is used in cultural ceremonies and as offerings to the ancestors.
So with our approach to Lughnasadh here in the Southern Hemisphere, it is only fitting to explore the themes of blessings and thanksgiving by journeying across the South African landscape in search of the humble mealie.
Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Breath in deeply, pushing your stomach out as you draw your breath in. Hold the air in briefly, and then exhale, drawing your stomach muscles inward as you do so. Continue to breathe in this manner, allowing yourself to release tension with each exhale until you feel calm and relaxed. You are now ready to begin.
With your eyes closed, focus on the blackness you see before you. If any thoughts invade this space, acknowledge them and then push them out. Now feel yourself being drawn into the darkness by an irresistible pull- don’t fight it or fear it, instead allow yourself to tumble into it.
As you are being drawn into the void, colours and lights start to form around you; pulsating into consciousness, swirling and dancing and intermingling with each other until they blend to form shapes; the shapes combining to form a scene.
You now find yourself standing in the open veld. It is mid-morning and the sun feels pleasantly warm on your skin. In the distance you can hear birds calling to one another creating a soft music that mingles with the sound of the breeze-blown grass and whirring crickets. You are thigh-deep in a sea of green, copper-tipped grass and wild flowers that smells sweet and earthy. Take a moment to connect with the place you find yourself now and fully sink into your surroundings.
As you stand soaking up the atmosphere of this sacred space, a movement draws your attention. Just ahead of you the grass is swaying with more force. Curiosity draws you to the strongly swaying grass and you walk towards it without fear.
What you find is a trail, dried hard and uneven, and littered with small sharp rocks. And there slithering along the trail is a thick rock python; it’s mottled brown scales shimmering in the sunlight as the python tenses its muscular body to move it forward. The python pays you no notice as it struggles along the path, moving over the uneven surface and dodging between the jagged rocks. You find yourself mesmerized by the python’s rhythmic movements and you follow it as it struggles along the trail cutting through the veld.
(short pause of 2-3 minutes)
You have silently been following the python along the trail, unaware of where it was going and focused solely on it. But the trail now changes; it melts into the veld and the python disappears along with it as it slithers out of your view and back into the tall grass.
Look up from the grass and you will find you are now almost at the edge of a mealie field. The field is a rich, vibrant green and each stalk is laden with mealies, wrapped safe in its pale green husk. As you approach the field, you notice a woven hand basket lying on the ground and you pick it up.
The breeze ripples through the mealie field as you walk into it, causing the towering stalks to gently rattle their leaves in a welcome to you. As you walk through the field you notice there are mealies that are fat and near bursting from their husks.
The ripe mealies are the goals you have achieved in the last few months; they are the blessings in your life. It is now time now to harvest ripe mealies. Choosing a mealie, think of a blessing or recent achievement in your life as you twist it free from the stalk. And before you place each mealie in the basket, peel back the husk thinking of the sacrifices you made and the lessons you learnt in order to receive or reach your blessing or achievement. Let the husks fall to the ground where they can be returned to the earth to nurture new blessings. Take some time now to harvest more mealies and contemplate your blessings and achievements.
(long pause of 5-8 minutes)
With your basket heavy with mealies you look around the field and notice that there are still many mielies that are thin and pale as they’re still growing; others are nothing more than silk topped buds. These are the blessings and achievements you have yet to receive and achieve.
And now with your blessings and achievements harvested and acknowledged, it is time to return to the waking world. Place your basket laden with mealies back at the edge of the field where you found it with the knowledge that you are leaving them to grow into something else, something new.
It is time to walk back through the veld, back through the copper-tipped grass and wild flowers with a sense of humility and peace. Walk back to where you first started your journey.
(short pause of 2-3 minutes)
You are now at your starting point, and it is time to come back to the waking world. Feel your body; become aware of its denseness. Become aware of your breathing, feel your chest expanding and contracting with each inhale and exhale. Move your fingers slowly, roll your shoulders gently and feel yourself in your body. Open your eyes and exhale deeply. At this point you may wish to ground yourself.
Dorpie- Pronounced door-pee, this is an Afrikaans word commonly used when speaking of small, often rural, towns.
Veld- Pronounced felt, this is the term given to vast rural grass plains.
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